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Beyond the bread and butter issues

Leslie Ridgeway • November 20, 2023
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Professor Adam Zimmerman sees mass torts law as doorway to learning

Professor Adam Zimmerman enrolled in law school to pursue a career in public interest law. Like so many law students, his focus changed, but those goals remained the same. His journey inspires him in his teaching and scholarship.

Zimmerman, who comes to USC Gould from Loyola Law School, teaches Tort Law, Civil Procedure, Administrative Law and Mass Tort Law. When he entered law school, his goal was to do civil rights work with nonprofits, school districts and neighborhood councils to accomplish broader institutional reforms. Things changed, however, when he clerked after law school for Judge Jack B. Weinstein, a legendary jurist and procedural scholar known for his work in the Brown v. Board litigation and who is often known as the “founding father” of mass tort litigation.  Zimmerman realized how his own goals intersected with the way Judge Weinstein approached large tort cases impacting people across the country.

“Judge Weinstein’s view was that mass tort cases – which today range from opioids cases and climate change litigation, to cases involving social media addiction – were as much a form of public interest litigation as foundational civil rights cases to desegregate our schools in the 1950s and 1960s. And so, he thought the procedural tools to respond to them should be the same,” Zimmerman says. “Mass torts sits at the boundary line of many different areas of law and requires creative approaches. A lot of policy and our society is defined by it, so it deserves the scholarly attention the bread and butter courses in law school, from contracts to constitutional law, often receive.”

Zimmerman’s work experience includes serving as appointed counsel to Kenneth Feinberg, then the special master to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and litigating a wide variety of mass torts in private practice. The work fed Zimmerman’s scholarly interest in developing tools to compensate victims as well as how society views remedies to victims.

Zimmerman prepared himself for an eventual career in academia by teaching for three years as a lawyering fellow at NYU School of Law. There, he realized that litigation and negotiation were hands-on opportunities to take a deeper view of the law and the philosophy behind it. His innovative teaching approach has garnered national recognition and awards.

His scholarship includes a forthcoming paper in the Yale Law Journal, titled “Ghostwriting Federalism,” that looks into joint areas of policy and law between federal agencies and state legislatures.

Zimmerman is excited to be on the same faculty as Professor Greg Keating – “an institution at USC and in the world of torts” – and relishes Gould’s priority on interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

“It’s important in a world of changing norms and laws that we have a deeper understanding of what motivates the law and makes the law change — including philosophy, economics, political science, sociology and history,” he says. “That is something USC uniquely brings to bear in its scholarship.”

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